What is Stealthing?

This article deals with themes of sexual assault and abuse.


The word stealthing is another name for non-consensual condom removal, which is widely considered a form of rape. Stealthing is when a person starts having sex wearing a condom (or using another form of contraceptive barrier such as a dental dam)…and then secretly removes the condom during sex without the knowledge or consent of their partner. 


“My ex and I were together for 5 years and almost every time we had sex he wanted to go without a condom,” says Leah*, 32, opening up about a previous relationship. “It was constant pressure. I can’t use the pill due to a bad reaction. He knew that, but he was obsessed. Once, he took off the condom during sex, but I stopped him. At the time, it seemed like ‘no harm no foul’, but now I realise how violating it was.”


It’s not always immediately apparent to everyone (including the perpetrators) why the act of stealthing is so serious.

How do you know if you’ve experienced stealthing?

It can be difficult to know that you’ve experienced stealthing, but there are often signs. You might see your partner’s uncovered penis immediately after they finish, that the barrier contraceptive being used has been tossed aside, that the condom does not contain semen, or you might find that there is semen inside your vagina or anus. 


Amie’s* story highlights the confusion surrounding stealthing. When discussing a strange experience she had with her boyfriend, she realized it might be sexual assault.


Amie explains her experience: “I was facing away, so I turned around and he was holding the condom and he said something like ‘Oh, it fell off’, but I couldn’t make sense of what he was trying to tell me was happening. And he had this smirk on. I felt uncomfortable but couldn’t have told you why.” 


Later, when Amie confided in her friend about her discomfort, she learned the truth:
“She was adamant that it was something called ‘stealthing’ – which I had never, ever heard of – and that I needed to go to a [sexual health] clinic. She was asking me questions about whether he had been funny about using condoms before and the truth is that he had. Loads of times. I wasn’t sure though; I trusted him. Some things didn’t add up though; the condom he produced afterwards was clean, and there was semen inside me. That’s why I confronted him.”


Amie’s boyfriend was dismissive, pointing out that she had taken the morning-after pill and he had no STIs. However, his lack of concern for her feelings led to the end of their relationship.

Why does stealthing happen?

Many people who commit this crime might feel that they enjoy sex more without a condom and agree to use one with no intention of keeping it on as a way of getting consent for sex under false pretences. 

Additionally, stealthing can serve as a way to exert power over a partner, whether as a punishment or as a way to show that they are capable of dominating or controlling them. It’s clear that those who engage in stealthing disregard their partner’s well-being and autonomy, and may be putting them in danger of sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy without their knowledge and consent.

Is stealthing illegal under UK law?

Stealthing is explicitly considered rape under English and Welsh law. According to a 2018 survey by End Violence Against Women, 40% of respondents at the time of the survey were unaware that it was considered rape. Although some may not grasp its gravity, it remains harmful and illegal.


If you believe that you have been a victim of stealthing or any other form of sexual violence, support is available to you. A Rape Crisis Centre or a sexual assault referral centre can provide help. You could also choose to report the incident to the police or consult your GP. The NHS also has a list of ways that you could seek out assistance. You are not obligated to report what has happened to the police, though seeking medical attention is crucial for your sexual health in terms of preventing unwanted pregnancy or treating sexually transmitted infections. It’s also a good idea to seek out a friend or family member who you trust and who can support you through this time, regardless of how you choose to progress.


ellaOne® is an emergency contraceptive pill that works for 120 hours (or 5 days) following an instance of unprotected sex. Find out about your choices for emergency contraception.


ellaOne® 30mg film-coated tablet contains ulipristal acetate and is indicated for emergency contraception within 120 hours (5 days) of unprotected sex or contraceptive failure. Always read the label.